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Tea Table

Origin: America, Virginia, Norfolk
OH: 29 3/4" OW: 37"
All components of mahogany.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1930-184
Appearance: Tilt-top tea table; round top with shaped and molded edges; battens with cyma shaped ends; both bird cage blocks have half round moldings on all four sides; four baluster turned bird cage pillars; bulbous baluster and ring turned shaft; three large cabriole legs with shell carved knees and ball-and-claw feet.

Construction: The legs, which are dovetailed to the underside of the column, were originally secured with a metal spider or brace. The single-board top is attached to the column with standard birdcage construction.
Label:This impressive Virginia tea table which features a boldly turned baluster-and-ring column, ball-and-claw feet, shell-carved knees, and a deeply shaped and molded top, is also noteworthy for its substantial size. Although most eighteenth-century tables of these dimensions have tops composed of two or three joined boards, the thirty-seven-inch-wide top on the CWF table was cut from a single highly figured mahogany plank. Routed out by hand and carved at the rim, the top remains almost perfectly flat after more than two centuries of humid Virginia weather.

The table, which was owned by the Barraud, Wilson, and Marshall families of Norfolk and adjacent Portsmouth until the late 1920s, was almost certainly made in that area. A number of related tea tables and candlestands have histories in the same vicinity, among them a later mahogany stand originally owned by Norfolk merchant Moses Myers (Chrysler Museum acc. 53.8.5). The Myers stand and the Barraud table exhibit very similar baluster turnings and the same shaping at the juncture of the legs and the shaft. A simpler version of the stand descended in the Prentis family of nearby Suffolk (CWF acc. 1978-87). Also closely associated is a black walnut tea table with a history in the Allen family of Virginia's Northern Neck, a rural district whose residents often ordered from Norfolk artisans and merchants during the late colonial period (CWF acc. 1993-333).

Although baluster-and-ring columns like those discussed here were widely used in and around Norfolk, the design was certainly not confined to the lower Chesapeake. Based on published architectural motifs, the same pattern was used by many artisans on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, a closely related column appears on a black walnut tea table ascribed to Thomas Hayden (1745-1817), a Windsor, Connecticut, house joiner and furniture maker (Hurst & Prown, fig. 101.4).

Hayden's drawing for the column on his table survives with several of his architectural renderings, a reminder of the strong connection between architectural designs and those for furniture (Hurst & Prown, fig. 101.5). Hayden may have based his table turning on plate XVII in James Gibbs, Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1738). Describing the baluster in question, architect Gibbs explained that its height was "divided into eight parts and its breadth into four, two of which go to the solid, and two to the swell'd members." In like fashion, the maker of the CWF table divided the height of its column into twelve equal units that he used to determine the placement of specific elements. The baluster's width was mathematically proportioned as well, with the thinnest part equaling two units and the broadest part just over four. Rooted in the ancient Greek system of dynamic symmetry, such arithmetical methods of design were familiar to furniture makers and house carpenters in many parts of the world.
Provenance:Family tradition holds that the table descended from Daniel Barraud (1725-post 1784) or his son, Philip (1757-1830), to the latter's son, Daniel Cary Barraud (1790-1867); to his daughter, Mira Arosa Barraud Wilson (1822-1850); to her daughter, Catherine Wilson Marshall; and to her daughter, Susan Lewis Marshall of Portsmouth, Va. Susan Lewis Marshall sold the table to antiques dealer Israel Sack about 1929. Sack sold it to CWF the following year.